Schools must employ specialist teachers with practical skills to teach drama, says Jude Burt
September 2000 - a new AS syllabus. September 2001 - a new GCSE syllabus and tackling the new A2 syllabus. I can do that - I like a challenge. But can someone tell me how to teach key skills in numeracy through drama as well? Put this together with training three non-specialists to teach drama at KS3 (part-time drama specialists are as rare as hens' teeth) and five examination productions to oversee, and I think I might feel ready for early retirement by July.
The new AS, A2 and GCSE courses, rigorous in their breadth and depth, uphold the high standards that have become the norm for exam courses in drama. Their very rigour demands highly qualified, energetic drama specialists. Luckily the Teacher Training Agency supports initial teacher training of drama teachers, and it must continue to do so.
The success of drama in schools means that increasing numbers of pupils are expressing their creativity by following exam courses in Drama and Theatre Studies at GCSE and A-level. Suitably qualified staff are needed to teach these courses, which can leave the teaching of lower-school drama to the enthusiastic non-specialists. Staff from other subject areas are offered the opportunity to "expand their CV" or are "lumbered" - depending on their point of view - by taking on a drama class. Despite the energy and commitment of the non-specialist staff, well-qualified drama specialists are needed to teach at KS3 as well as KS4 if we are to give pupils continuity and quality in their drama experiences
This year my non-specialists have come from the English department, and I think that is great. As drama is part of the Order for English in the national curriculum they should not have too much trouble coping with the syllabus. But that is not how it is. These three people have been wonderful, taking to new ideas, adopting a different teaching style (no desks!) working out how to let pupils take risks yet maintaining a safe, supportive working atmosphere, learning a new vocabulary and approaching the task with enthusiasm and commitment. But they are first and foremost English teachers. Why is it assumed that because plays are studied in English then ergo English teachers are able to teach practical drama? Some can, and do so very well, but it is a different subject.
The Department for Education and Employment must ensure that English teachers are equipped to teach drama if it is to remain within the English Order. Currently, PGCE courses in English include only six hours of practical drama during their training - is this enough to give new teachers the confidence, knowledge and understanding they require?
The English Order is overcrowded. Why not solve the problem: take the requirement for drama out of English and give it to specialists who already exist - drama specialists. It will not solve my problem of how to fit a quart into a pint pot but it might mean more places being offered for the training of drama specialists.
Jude Burt is a member of National Drama and head of drama in an outer London comprehensive schoolNational Drama web: www.nationaldrama.co.uk